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In their “one year after the riot stories” WOOD TV 8 doesn’t hold power accountable, fails to address Structural Racism and continues to center whiteness

May 26, 2021

As we approach the one year anniversary of the May 30th rebellion in Grand Rapids, the commercial media has been regurgitating the same awful narratives about what happened during the protests that took place in the aftermath of the police murder of George Floyd. 

I use the term regurgitate, because one week after the May 30th rebellion, GRIID conducted a 5 day study of the dominant local news sources – MLive, WOOD TV8, WZZM 13 and WXMI 17 – to see how these news sources were reporting on the rebellion. Our conclusion was that the local commercial news sources we looked at hijacked the narrative, whereby they: 1) diverted attention from the root causes of the rebellion and framed the news around rioting & looting; 2) gave more space for City Officials and the GRPD to have an opinion, and; 3) the four news agencies demonstrated that they have internalized the values of systems of power and privilege, through their failure to seriously questions structural racism and White Supremacy in this community.

In the past few days, there have been numerous 1 year anniversary stories in the local news, but most of those stories have aired on WOOD TV 8. In fact, on May 25th, channel 8 ran a total of six stories for their 1 – year after series, all of which continue to hijack a narrative away from Black Lives Matter and a narrative that centers whiteness.

The six stories cover the following themes:

  1. People involved in the downtown Grand Rapids cleanup the day after the rebellion.
  2. The art that was produced on the boarded up windows after the rebellion.
  3. Those arrested and charged for property damage during the rebellion.
  4. Black-owned businesses that were impacted by the rebellion.
  5. An interview with one activist on police reform.
  6. An interview with Police Chief Payne

In the first story, the channel 8 reporter begins by saying, “An incredible thing happened in the hours after rioters tore our city apart.” Never did channel 8 use the word incredible, referring to the thousands of people who took to the streets on May 30th, 2020. Also interesting is the fact that they said “our city.” The length of this news story was 3:01, with 1 Black woman and 2 white women being interviewed.

The second story aired by WOOD TV8, focused on the art that was created on the plywood of the boarded up windows on the downtown business and government buildings after the May 30th rebellion. The length of this story was 2:35 and center the voices of two white women.

A third story that channel 8 aired focused on those who were arrested charged with property damage and/or looting during the May 30th rebellion. The channel 8 piece began with his comment, “You’re looking at the faces of those charged with torching and tearing apart of the heart of Grand Rapids.” The primary voice in this story was that of a white prosecuting attorney and the length of the story was 3:17. The reporter was Susan Samples, who had done an awful story last year that used far right sources to demonize anti-racists and anti-fascist organizers.

A fourth story aired by WOOD TV8, focused on some of the Black businesses that were impacted by the May 30th rebellion. This news story ran for 3:33 and began with the reporter framing the story by saying, “There were police cars being set on fire, people were being hurt, businesses were destroyed.” The story featured interview with two Black businesses owners in downtown Grand Rapids and comments from Jamiel Robinson, founder of the Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses.

A fifth story that ran on channel 8, featured a family member of Breonna Taylor, with a length of 3:53. The story was framed using the language of police reform and never mentioned defunding, nor did it discuss other non-police forms of community safety. This was the only story that featured a Black activist, but this activist was not from the two prominent groups that have been organizing for the past year, which are Justice for Black Lives and Defund the GRPD.

The sixth story that was aired by WOOD TV8, was an interview with Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne. This story was 9 minutes and 42 seconds long, with one soft ball question after another. Chief Payne adamantly defended his officers in the interview and touted the “new” neighborhood policing model. The reality is that there is nothing fundamentally new about this model, since there have been specific police officers assigned to specific neighborhoods for decades, specifically the cops assigned to neighborhood associations. However, the channel 8 reporter never questions Payne, instead asking him things like, “what are you most proud of in your 35 year career?” 

WOOD TV 8 once again demonstrated that they completely embrace the values of systems of power in this community, refuse to look at larger structural issues at play, will not hold those in power accountable and continue to center white voices and white feelings.

Koch family funding has influenced higher education across the country and in West Michigan

May 24, 2021

The Koch Brothers have been a financial dynasty and the creator of right wing networks that is far reaching in the United States and around the globe.

Over the decades the Koch Brothers have contributed millions to political candidates, spent millions on lobbying Congress, creating the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and a main driving force behind the State Policy Network, all of which is well documented on SourceWatch and in the book by Christopher Leonard, Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America. 

However, there is another arena that the Koch Brothers have also used their wealth and influence, an arena that is less know. The group UnKoch My Campus, has just released a new report which documents how the Koch dynasty has been funding universities all across the US. The report is entitled, Increased Funding, Increased Influence: Koch University Funding, May 2005 – 2019.

In its Executive Summary, the report states:

As the epicenter of modern day lobbying veers farther away from Washington, D.C. and into our daily lives, college campuses are increasingly subject to the influence of private and corporate influence. There are many culprits we can point to in this arena, but one billionaire donor has distinguished himself for his aggressively coordinated spending and wielding of political influence through university grants. 

Charles Koch, CEO of Koch Industries, has overseen over $458 million in grants to over 550 universities and higher ed adjacent non-profits since 2005. Unlike other philanthropists backing higher education, Koch gives to schools with the explicit goal of creating intellectual fodder for his network of political interest groups, and recruiting and training students to integrate into that network. 

Charles Koch himself admits that his funding of hundreds of universities across the country is intended to mainstream free market ideas and approaches to public policy that support the Koch network’s legislative goals at the state and federal levels:

“… there are basically four ways in which [the pro-capitalist businessman] can fight for free enterprise – through education, through the media, by legal challenges, and by political action… I do maintain, however, that the educational route is both the most vital and the most neglected… We should [support] only those programs, departments or schools that contribute in some way to our individual companies or to the general welfare of our free enterprise system.” 

The report documents how the Koch family has used various family foundations and the Charles Koch Institute, to funnel over $458 million dollars to influence universities all across the country. 

There is also a database, which provides an alphabetical run down of all the colleges and universities in the country that have received funding from the Koch dynasty between 2005 – 2019. Not surprising, there are several colleges and Universities in West Michigan that have been targeted by the Koch family with their wealth. 

Here is a run down of the West Michigan schools, including schools that have satellite campuses in West Michigan, and how much that have received:

Aquinas College $4,000

Ferris State University $194,495

Hope College $328,900

Michigan State University $417,842

University of Michigan $423,596

Western Michigan University $280,004

While these numbers are not as large as what the DeVos Family has contributed locally, it is important to think about how this funding influences institutes of higher learning in West Michigan, both in terms of content and how members of the Capitalist Class are able to have significant access to students and faculty because of their contributions. 

Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce says they want everyone to be prosperous, but they really only mean business owners

May 20, 2021

Restaurant owners and workers have been in the news a great deal recently, since many restaurants are looking for staff, but workers are generally opposed to returning, since the wages are ridiculously low.

While there have been some places that are beginning to increase wages, there is also movement from federal politicians to pressure Governors around the US to “end state’s enhanced unemployment benefits.” In Michigan, seven Republican members of Congress are leaning on Gov. Whitmer to end enhanced unemployment benefits, claiming that it’s contributing to a labor shortage. 

In addition, the US Chamber of Commerce is pressuring Congress to put an end to the COVID-induced unemployment benefits. The left publication, Jacobin, reported recently:

As Washington’s largest spender on federal lobbying in 2020, the Chamber is widely considered the most powerful influence peddler for large corporations. Last week, the Chamber declared that “paying people not to work is dampening what should be a stronger jobs market” and called for “ending the $300 weekly supplemental unemployment benefit.” Sixteen Republican governors have followed that demand after the Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform dumped $850,000 into the Republican Governors Association in the last few years.

Restaurant workers are getting more organized and more people are waking up to the exploitative nature of the food industry. 

We could find no concrete evidence on whether or not the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce is advocating for the same thing, although it seems like that they would endorse the same position that the national Chamber of Commerce is adopting.

As was mentioned in the Jacobin article, the US Chamber of Commerce is one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce, along with regional Chambers in Michigan, also make it a point to lobby State Legislators on matters of interest to them. The Grand Rapids Chamber has a monthly “breakfast with Legislators” gathering, plus they have several staff and subcommittees committed to lobbying for state policies that would benefit the business class.

This is counter to what the Grand Rapids Chamber uses as part of their mission statement, which says, “The Grand Rapids Chamber continues to work toward cultivating a region that is thriving and prosperous for ALL.” This simply isn’t true. The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce is committed to promoting and defending the interests of the business class in this city. The GR Chamber does an annual survey to find out what its members want the Chamber to make as its priorities. Just check out this short video, which lays out the 2021 legislative priorities for the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. 

The video makes it clear that the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce is “working to shape the policies to support a vibrant business climate.” The video states that the GR Chamber wants:

  • Property tax deferment for businesses, which Whitmer has vetoed twice
  • Regulatory flexibility 
  • A possible end to licensing fees
  • Eliminate or reduce business unemployment fees
  • Improve work research requirements to make people take jobs that don’t pay well
  • Education testing to make sure that students are work ready. In other words, the GR Chamber sees education as talent production
  • Creating more childcare options to get people back into the workforce and improve productivity
  • Criminal Justice reform for the GR Chamber is about getting more formerly incarcerated people into the workforce, which the Chamber also sees as a Talent issue
  • Continuation of the Going Pro Program, which transfers public money to private businesses for training purposes
  • Wants more housing, but not housing justice

You might remember in 2018, when there was backlash against the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce for endorsing Bill Schuette for Governor because of his anti-LGBTQ stance. We pointed out then that the GR Chamber of Commerce has a long history of endorsing policies that do tremendous harm, especially economic harm. The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce is part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure and we need to understand that they represent systems of power and oppression, regardless of what their mission statement might suggest about wanting everyone to be prosperous. 

Longtime DeVos Family operative, Greg McNeilly, is defending the Enbridge Corporation’s Line 5

May 20, 2021

Last Friday, Greg McNeilly, Chairman of the Michigan Freedom Fund, posted a comment on the organization’s blog, entitled, Party Like It’s 1979.

The blog post was making a cheeky remark about the Colonial Pipeline shut down and that Michigan might also be experiencing a rise in gas prices, especially if Gov. Whitmer “gets her way.”

McNeilly goes on to write:

This week the Governor bowed to the radical environmentalists in her political base, and ordered Enbridge energy to shutter their Line 5 pipeline. It’s a move that would take 540,000 barrels per day of light crude oil, light synthetic crude oil and natural gas liquids out of the state and away from the region. 

It’s unfortunate that McNeilly, and other commentators, use the term radical in a negative way. A more honest understanding of the term radical, means to get to the root of something. However, McNeilly uses the term radical to suggest someone who is an extremist. 

Not only does McNeilly misuse the term radical, his suggestion that Gov. Whitmer is bowing to radical environmentalists is simply ridiculous. Whitmer campaigned against Line 5 during her 2018 run for the office, plus virtually every mainstream environmental group in the state endorses the shutdown of Line 5. More importantly, indigenous communities throughout the Great Lakes area, which have been at the forefront of the campaign against Line 5, are not extremists. In fact, for Greg McNeilly to refer to Indigenous people as radical environmentalists is not only dead wrong, it is highly problematic. Does McNeilly, the Republican operative, really want to marginalize indigenous people in the Great Lakes area? If so, he is marginalizing the very people who have lived in harmony within the Great Lakes for thousands of years.

Such tasteless rhetoric from Greg McNeilly is not unusual for him. McNeilly is not only the Chairman of the Michigan Freedom Fund, he is the Chief Operating Officer for The Windquest Group, which is owned by Dick and Betsy DeVos.

In 2006, McNeilly served as campaign manager for Michigan gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos.

McNeilly was also Executive Director of Choices for Children, a Michigan-based group that was working to undermine public education. In addition, McNeilly currently serves on the Board of Directors of the DeVos-created Great Lakes Education Project, which also seeks to undermine public education and replace it with privatized education. 

McNeilly is also on the Board of Directors of the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority, which is a non-elected entity that uses public tax dollars to promote downtown GR and fund development projects for the business community.

Again, saying that Gov. Whitmer is bowing to radical environmentalists on the potential Enbridge Line 5 shutdown is nothing more than political theater. If there is anyone that should be considered extremists on this issue, it’s McNeilly, for his longtime work as a DeVos-family operative, and the Enbridge Corporation, which constantly puts the Great Lakes ecosystem at risk with their pipelines. 

Last night’s City Commission meeting on the 2022 Budget was just the latest example of government contempt of public input

May 19, 2021

Last night, the Grand Rapids City Commission held their final opportunity for people to comment on the 2022 City Budget.

As has been the case for the past year, the overwhelming number of people who called in were in favor of Defunding the GRPD to the City Charter mandated 32%. Those who favored reducing the GRPD budget also echoed the demands of the group Defund the GRPD, which included a no vote on adopting the 2022 Budget as is and providing a participatory budgeting process so that the public has a real say in how their tax money is spent.

There were some who called in to support the GRPD and the current proposed City Budget, which included former police officers, the head of Voice for the Badge, people (white) who didn’t live in Grand Rapids and someone representing the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. You can draw these conclusions for yourself, by watching/listening to last nights City Commission meeting.

There was some local commercial news coverage of last night’s meeting, but not as much as one would think. Only MLive and WZZM 13 ran stories, as of this posting. The coverage from both of these dominant news sources was fairly standard as far as commercial news reporting goes.

First, both channel 13 and MLive did the whole both sides of the issue perspective. WZZM 13 had short comments from someone who is with Defund the GRPD and a neighborhood association representative. The headline for the Live article read, Opinions for and against ‘defunding the police’ voiced to Grand Rapids city commissioners. However, the MLive writer even acknowledged in the second paragraph:

“about 30 people called in to the Grand Rapids City Commission’s virtual meeting, with the majority of them telling city commissioners to defund the Grand Rapids Police Department.”

This didn’t stop the MLive writer from providing equal comments from those who were demanding a defunding of the GRPD and those who supporter the GRPD. This is just dishonest reporting, all in the name of presenting both sides.

Second, both news agencies never bother to provide any verification of the claims made by the public or City officials, instead they chose to act as stenographers on a topic that has far reaching implications for this community.

Third, the MLive article then gave the most space to City Manager Mark Washington. Washington, who is appointed by the City Commission and not elected, stated that the examples of cities that are using participatory budgeting, “only allocate a small fraction of their budgets for residents to directly say where the money goes.” While this may be true in some cases, it is not so in all cases, as one can read on the Participatory Budgeting Project page. Such dismissive comments from Washington miss the main point, which is the fact that there are cities all across the country and all across the world where the public has a say in how they want municipalities to spent public money. 

Washington is then quoted at length, saying:

“There is no city, mid-size urban city that turns over the entire budget from which there are bond requirements, there are debt obligations, contractual obligations for the entire — there’s no government that, the state doesn’t do it, the county doesn’t do it, the federal government surely doesn’t do it,” Washington said. “But there are ways to engage community members in the budgeting process and I think this budget has done that prior to the post-budget adoption process and we are even willing to do it even more (after the budget is adopted).”

First, when Washington claims the city has engaged the community in this budgeting process without providing clear examples of how that has happened is bullshit. The MLive writer should have questioned him or at least verified such a claim.

Secondly, Washington’s comment about no local, county or federal government giving the public complete say in the budgeting process in simply stupid. No one else does it, so we shouldn’t? Let’s think about that for a second using the same logic. If no local or federal government has abolished slavery, we shouldn’t do it either. If no local or federal government every provided Black people the right the vote, we shouldn’t do it either. If no local or federal government passed laws or ordinances against lynching, we shouldn’t do it either. If no local or federal government made it illegal to practice red-lining, then we shouldn’t do it either…….hopefully, you get the point. 

Ultimately, what Mark Washington is saying is that the public is incapable of having an informed say in the “complexities” of the City Budget. Washington and the rest of the City Officials have made it clear that they do not believe in participatory democracy and that lots of people in this community – which is code for Black, Brown and poor – do not know what is best for themselves. Fortunately, many social justice movements in this community, specifically Defund the GRPD, fully believe in the value of letting people, particularly people most affected by police harm, have a say in how money should be spent in this community. 

What can we do to support Palestinian Liberation in West Michigan?

May 18, 2021
  1. Get educated. See the list of books, films and online sources below. It is especially critical that we understand the history of US support for Israel, if we want to understand the Palestinian struggle.
  2. Make sure you center the voices and lived experiences of Palestinians who live in West Michigan. Contact the Arab American Association of West Michigan.
  3. Protest US Aid to Israel. Do actions at Senator Peters and Senator Stabenow’s offices, since both of them have consistently support Israel. Senator Peters is a major recipient of Pro-Israel PAC money.
  4. Participated in the International Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Campaign, which is one of the most effective ways to be in solidarity with Palestinians. https://bdsmovement.net/ 
  5. In Grand Rapids, target groups like the Right Place Inc, which has lobbied to bring Israeli companies to West Michigan. https://griid.org/2016/04/06/israeli-apartheid-week-targets-the-right-place-inc-in-grand-rapids/
  6. Understand and Confront Christian Zionism, which is rampant in West Michigan.

Books

Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights, by Omar Barghouti

Except for Palestine: The Limits of Progressive Politics, by Marc Lamont Hill and Mitchell Plitnick

Hundred Years’ War on Palestine, Rashid Khalidi

The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, by Ilan Pappe

Popular Resistance in Palestine: A History of Hope and Empowerment, by Mazin Qumsiyeh

The Battle for Justice in Palestine, by Ali Abunimah

On Palestine, Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe

Against Apartheid: The Case for Boycotting Israeli Universities, Edited by Ashley Dawson and Bill Mullen

Inter/Nationalism: Decolonizing Native America and Palestine, by Steven Salaita

Ten Myths About Israel, by Ilan Pappe

Apartheid Israel: The Politics of an Analogy, by Jon Soske and Sean Jacobs

Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt

Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians, by Noam Chomsky

Films

Occupation 101

The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States

Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land: US Media and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Al-Nakba: The Palestinian Catastrophe 1948

Waiting for Armageddon

With God on Our Side

Online Resources

https://electronicintifada.net/

https://merip.org/

https://fpif.org/

https://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/

https://bdsmovement.net/

https://www.btselem.org/

Michigan Legislators argue over the best way to provide more funding for cops

May 17, 2021

On Thursday, MLive reported that a group of Republican lawmakers in Michigan had presented their police funding plan, which would include $80 million for recruiting and training.

The article cites House Speaker Jason Wentworth and his fellow Republican, Rep. Mike Mueller. While the MLive article mentions some of what the proposed $80 million would go towards, they leave out a whole list of items, such as:

  • Tuition assistance for people considering the police academy
  • A work study program to give people an opportunity to consider a career
  • Incentives for community policing
  • Incentives for expanded use of body cameras
  • Incentives for de-escalation training
  • Access to mental health services for police, corrections workers and other first responders
  • A signing bonus for new officers
  • State support for secondary road patrols
  • State support for recruiting strong candidates into the academies

All of these items listed are meant to convey the message that police are valued and that the government can provide incentives to provide more resources to the police. The financial incentives are offensive, since taxpayers already pay the salaries of police departments across the state. 

Then there is the matter of body cameras, while are generally seen as a form of accountability. However, there is plenty of evidence that body cams do not lead to more accountability and they are often a distraction in the much larger issue of what the real function of policing is in the US.

Incentives for community policing is just a a form of branding to suggest that cops will be more integrated into the community, when in fact, as police historian Kristian Williams has documented, community policing is another form of surveillance and tool of counter-insurgency. (See the book, Life During Wartime: Resisting Counterinsurgency)

Lastly, the notion that cops don’t have enough training is just plain not based in fact. Alex Vitale, author of the book, The End of Policing, documents that regardless of the type of training, whether it is racial sensitivity or de-escalation, it has no positive impact on how policing is done throughout the country.

The MLive article also does not tell us that the GOP legislators cited in the article have both received funding from various policing unions in Michigan, with Wentworth receiving $1,250 and Mueller receiving $800, according to the site No More Cop Money.

MLive also wrote:

House Democrats were critical of the plan, noting their caucus’ proposed budget amendments incorporating similar proposals were voted down by House Republicans this week.

However, the MLive article fails to mention that the Michigan Democrat who was arguing about their police funding plan, Rep. Donna Lasinski, has also been the recipient of police union funding, to the tune of $1,500. In fact, No More Cop Money makes it clear that police unions fund both Republicans and Democrats in Michigan. This is just one of the reasons why the Defund the Police movement does not trust that elected officials will easily respond to their demands, especially since they are taking money from police unions and crafting police policy simultaneously.

While Water Protectors give Enbridge an Eviction notice, GOP lawmakers are forcing taxpayers to pay the legal fees for the Enbridge Corporation to continue operating Line 5

May 16, 2021

Last week, water protectors showed up in Lansing and in Mackinaw City to send a strong message to the Enbridge Corporation, that they are now illegally operating Line 5 in Michigan. 

In fact, as we reported on May 4th:

Water Protectors, Tribal Citizens and Grassroot Organizations are mobilizing to demonstrate support for Governor Whitmer and DNR Director Eichinger’s termination of the 1953 easement permit. Great Lakes Water Protector’s would like to invite the ALL Sovereign Tribes of the Great Lakes region and  ALL State Officials from the Executive Office, Governor’s Office, EGLE, State and Federal Congressional and Senate Delegations. Tell the citizens of this State how OUR REPRESENTATIVES plan to proceed with Enbridge’s unwillingness to uphold the decision of the State.

This resistance to the Enbridge Corporation, which is a fossil fuel fascist, has been growing, with Climate Justice movements, particularly indigenous people leading the way. During the Eviction Party last week in Mackinaw City, there were also Water Protectors who came from Minnesota, people who have been fighting the Enbridge Line 3. Long-time organizer, author and Water Protector, Winona LaDuke, who is one of the main organizers against Line 3, spoke at the Eviction Party, which you can watch here.  

Despite all of the growing resistance to Enbridge’s Line 5, on May 12th, the Michigan Senate passed an amendment to Senate Bill 90, which would:

require the state to pay the legal fees of the Line 5 gas pipeline company after Gov. Whitmer revoked the 1953 easement that authorizes its pipeline to cross Mackinac Straits bottomlands, if the company prevails in a lawsuit against the taking.

The amendment to pay legal fees to Enbridge passed 20 – 16, completely on partisan lines, with 20 Republicans voting for the amendment and 16 Democrats voting against it. The amendment was proposed by Sen. Ed McBroom, who represents Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. On May 11th, Sen. McBroom joined other members of the GOP on the lawn of the State Capitol for some public theater, claiming that shutting down Line 5 would take away jobs, as can be seen in the video here.

McBroom and other Republican Senators standing on the State Capitol lawn, claiming to care about workers, is both laughable and absurd, considering how often Michigan Republicans attack unions, oppose an increase in minimum wages, and support massive tax breaks to businesses.

What McBroom and his fellow Republicans are doing with this amendment is to use taxpayer money to pay Enbridge’s legal fees while the fossil fuel giant has made billions in profits and constantly threatens the Great Lakes and all of the adjacent water systems. 

Zionism and Palestinian Solidarity in Grand Rapids: A brief history

May 14, 2021

It’s hard to watch recent news reports about the brutality of the Israeli Apartheid State and their treatment of Palestinians.

Some of the best news and analysis of what Israel is doing to the Palestinians can be found on the independent site Electronic Intifada, a site that has been reporting on Israeli policies for the past 20 years.

One issue that has again gained some attention because of the escalation of Israeli brutality, is the level of US funding to Israel. In fact, Israel is the number one recipient of US aid and has been for decades, providing on average about $3 Billion a year. However, we rarely hear about this fact, because every US administration since Nixon has aggressively supported Israel, with almost unanimous support from the US Congress. 

Those who question US support of Israel are often branded as anti-semitic. However, being critical of the State of Israel or more specifically of Zionist policies, is not anti-semitism. A great resource on understanding how criticism of Israel is equated with anti-semitism, is the documentary film entitled, The Occupation of the American Mind

Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States, produced by the Media Education Foundation.

Zionism and Palestinian Solidarity in Grand Rapids

Since the 1980s there has been numerous efforts and campaigns in support of the Palestinian people, beginning with the Middle East Education Project, which was a branch of the Institute for Global Education. 

In 2001, the local Arab community paid for 15 people to rent a van and travel to Washington, DC, to participate in the massive US Palestinian Solidarity march. Those who went from Grand Rapids, produced a short documentary on the march and the Teach-In that was held over a 3 day period.

In 2002, organizers host a Teach-In on Israel/Palestine at Aquinas College, which featured the founder of the site Electric Intifada. While the Teach-in brought out nearly 150 people, it did not result in greater Palestinian Solidarity, primarily because the US was already making plans to bomb Iraq, which is where people directed their attention.

Beginning in 2009, the Arab American Association of West Michigan was formed as a way for the local Arab community to respond to Israeli attacks on Palestinians, like the rally we reported on in 2010.

However, whenever these campaigns or action are organized, there are often counter-protests coming from the pro-Israeli community, often organized by the Jewish Federation in Grand Rapids. 

There are also lots of Christians who defend Israel no matter how often they brutalize Palestinians. For example, a church hosted a speaking tour organized by Stand With Us, which we also reported on in October of 2010. Our story was in sharp contrast to the story that the Grand Rapids Press ran one week later, which we also reported on.

In fact, the local news media often gives lots of attention to pro-Israeli events, like the one that was held in Rosa Parks Circle in the summer of 2011, which featured numerous speakers, including then US Representative Peter Hoekstra.

There are also other pro-Israeli connections in the Greater Grand Rapids area, such as the Right Place Inc. The Right Place Inc has worked to bring Israeli companies to West Michigan and their former CEO was part of a group called the Michigan Israel Business Bridge. In the Spring of 2016, there was an action as part of the international Israeli Apartheid Week in Grand Rapids, where the Right Place Inc was targeted. 

Beginning in 2015, the now defunct group Healing Children of Conflict, decided to work on a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign in Grand Rapids. The BDS Campaign is an international campaign organized by Palestinians that is model after the South African Anti-Apartheid Campaign, which the City of Grand Rapids participated in during the early 1980s.

In late 2015, Healing Children of Conflict presented a resolution to the Grand Rapids City Commission to get the City of Divest from any companies benefiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. George Heartwell was Mayor of Grand Rapids at that time, but he would not take a position on the matter. 

The local BDS campaign then met with the incoming Mayor of Grand Rapids, Rosalynn Bliss in early 2016, but Bliss did not want to consider a City resolution to divest from companies profiting off of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. The Mayor’s only argument was that she did not want to offend the Jewish community here in Grand Rapids.

Those involved with the BDS campaign decided to then meet with the Community Relations Commission a few months later in 2016. There were productive meetings, which eventually led to a formal draft of a resolution, which read in part:

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that, 

1. The City of Grand Rapids, Michigan, divest itself and/or make no further business dealings or purchases from four companies due to their serious human rights violations in the ongoing illegal Israeli Occupation of Palestinian Lands until those companies have ceased their complicit activities or the Israeli Government has ceased its policy of occupation and practice of apartheid. The four companies are: Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, G4S, and Motorola Solutions.

2. Denounces the use of violence as a means to resolving the conflict between the Palestinian people and the state of Israel,

3. Recognizes that the Jewish people and Judaism are not synonymous with the government of Israel or its policies.

You can read the entire 4 page proposed resolution here.

While the Grand Rapids Community Relations Commission was in agreement with the proposed resolution, there was no movement forward with the resolution because members of the Community Relations Commission felt that there were more pressing local issues to deal with, specifically racism in Grand Rapids. However, what people failed to understand is that these issues are connected, which is exactly why the international BDS Campaign has been in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement and the Movement for Black Lives has fully endorsed the BDS Campaign for Palestinian justice.

It is critical for people in Grand Rapids to speak out against the Israeli Apartheid and stand in solidarity with Palestinians, just as people in Grand Rapids have done for decades. 

Grand Rapids Police union wants us to celebrate National Police Week, while thousands in this community are calling for Defunding the GRPD

May 12, 2021

On Monday, the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association, the union that represents the GRPD, posted an image on their Facebook page for National Police Week.

National Police Week was first instituted during the Kennedy Administration, with a Congressional resolution that referred to cops as Peace Officers. This should not surprise us, since the system of power in the US has always celebrated the police as an important and necessary component of state power.

However, we know that the police were created in the US as a form of slave patrols, then shifting to policing black bodies under the system of Jim Crow. Police Departments were also heavily relied on to control disgruntled workers and stop worker tactics like strikes, acting as sort of an enforcement tool for the Capitalist class.

During the Civil Rights era, the police were used as enforcement mechanism to defend the structural aspects of White Supremacy, making sure that Black people knew their place in a society constructed on systemic racism. 

Today, however, with a growing number of people questioning the very existence of police, the celebration of National Police Week by the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association seems like a desperate attempt by the local cop union to legitimize their existence, especially in the face of a growing movement that is calling for the GRPD to be defunded.

The political and media systems in Grand Rapids have done everything they can to defend the GRPD, along with their attempt to co-opt the language of the larger defund/abolish policing movement, a movement that Black scholar Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor has documented so well in her recent essay entitled, The Emerging Movement for Police and Prison Abolition.

In addition, the resistance upon the part of Grand Rapids officials to even consider a minor reduction in the funding for the Grand Rapids Police Department, has been both instructive and expected. Despite the claims of Grand Rapids City officials, that the City is committed to racial justice and equity, they have demonstrated over the past year that they are deeply committed to maintaining a form of policing that is centered around protecting property and power.

The GRPD and City officials have attempted to use reformist language and to re-brand what the cops do in this city, yet many people are not fooled by their re-branding based on their continued attacks against members of the Black community.

The recent response from City officials to community opposition to the proposed 2022 Budget, especially how much is allocated for the GRPD, has also be interesting to observe. Both City Manager Mark Washington and Mayor Rosalynn Bliss have shown that they are completely unwilling to even entertain a reduction in the GRPD’s funding. Bliss and Washington have both dug their heels in by attempting to present the GRPD as a force for good, along with the claim that police staff is too low for Grand Rapids. All of the rhetoric coming from City officials has made it clear that they do not care that there is a growing opposition to the GRPD in this community, which means they don’t care what their constituents want.

What Grand Rapids City officials are hoping for is that people will “move on” from any talk about defunding the police and eventually get things back to normal. However, this is not likely to happen, since there is growing opposition to the function and existence of the GRPD.

Within the past two months, there have been numerous protests against the GRPD, which has resulted in the cops targeting Black organizers.

The GRPD initiated Operation Safe Neighborhoods, where they used helicopters to harass mostly 3rd Ward residents, resulting in hundreds of messages being sent to the City condemning Operation Safe Neighborhoods.

When the City of Grand Rapids announced their plans for the 2022 City Budget, both Justice for Black Lives and Defund the GRPD organized a series of actions, along with clear demands that not only call for a reduction of police funding, but a rejection of the 2022 City Budget, particularly to allow more time for public input.

In addition, Defund the GRPD has been inviting people to re-imagine how public money could better be spent in this community, by re-directing it from the GRPD to meet urgent community needs. The responses that the community have presented are both thoughtful and amazing.

Lastly, both Justice for Black Lives and Defund the GRPD will be hosting a Defund the GRPD Rally and march this Friday, May 14, starting at 6pm at Calder Plaza. 

All of this is to say that this movement will not go away and it will not move on. Those calling for the Defunding of the GRPD are passionate, articulate and committed organizers that the City of Grand Rapids will have to reckon with. This is a historic moment and history will not be kind to those who have sided with power and privilege. As the old organizers song asks, which side are you on my people, which side are you on!